So last night, I finally baked my first loaf of bread. And surprisingly, not only did it come out well, it came out even better than my brother’s previous loaves.
First some background. I am a terrible baker. I had never worked with bread dough until last night. Hell, I’d barely ever worked with any kind of dough other than cookie dough. This was almost all new to me.
I used the no-knead, dutch oven method popularized by Jim Lahey of New York’s Sullivan Street Bakery. For this, first attempt, I used the opening, basic recipe in his book “My Bread” and invited my brother over to advise on the final steps, and see the final product.
Unfortunately, because of scheduling snafus, I couldn’t quite follow the recipe perfectly. Instead of only allowing the bread to rise initially for 12-16 hours, I allowed it to rise for nearly 24 hours on my kitchen counter. Luckily, I don’t think the final product was any worse for that error. Lahey says that this recipe is very forgiving and so far, that has proven true.
Sam couldn’t believe the stringy, gluten-heavy, consistency of the dough saying jealously, “Mine never looks like that.” I think that goes to the unique very wet dough that Lahey recommends and his combination of moisture, comparatively little yeast, and a very long initial raising period.
Once the dough had risen for a second shorter period, we had to then extricate it from the dish towel it was supposed to sit on. I can only guess that we didn’t flour that part of the towel enough, because it took both and and I yanking the dough off the towel to get it into the preheated pot. Once we put it into the shockingly hot 475 degree cast iron pot, we stuck the lid on and began the baking. After about 45 minutes, we had a loaf of bread. Here Sam and I made another little error, which was only letting the bread to cool for about 20 minutes rather than the recommended 60. Sam had to leave at that point in the evening, and I didn’t want him to go with A) seeing the crumb structure or B) actually tasting the stuff. So we cut into it a bit soon, which meant the inside got slightly gooey as it didn’t adequately “dry” out during the cooling process.
So how was it? I’ll give it the following grades:
Shape – D, It has a shape “only a mother could love.” Sam and I struggled to shape the dough after both rising periods and that, along with its sticking to the towel, meant that the loaf came out looking quite lumpy and irregular.
Color – A-, The color was beautiful. I think we may have pulled it from the oven about 3-5 minutes too early but we weren’t far off from perfection here.
Crust – A, As good as I’ve ever had from a loaf of bread. I still cannot believe I (a man who knows very, very little about baking) managed to make a bread with that quality of crust. It was exactly what you want out of a crust.
Crumb – A, I’ll leave this to my brother who was dumbfounded that I’d managed to get this kind of crumb structure on my first ever attempt. He said that in all his other conventional attempts to bake decent bread, he’d never gotten an interior as good as this loaf had.
Taste – B+, Some folks like Serious Eats have criticized this recipe for being a bit under-seasoned and I’m inclined to agree, but only a small bit. The standard recipe still produced an extremely good loaf of bread, and I don’t want that to get underplayed.
Overall, I still cannot believe that my first time ever baking a loaf of bread, or even handling any kind of dough, came out so well. I cannot recommend this method enough. If a complete baking clod like me can produce a product this good, anyone can do it.
I think next time I’m going to use J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s modification to the recipe from Serious Eats. His version is said to produce a more flavorful loaf while taking advantage of the benefits of the no-knead, cast iron-pot method.